(India and China on Monday signalled an end, though not yet fully clear, to the three-month-long standoff in Doklam. The Ministry of External Affairs in a statement said the two countries have agreed to an "expeditious disengagement" of troops in the disputed border area. China, on the other hand, claimed the Indian troops have withdrawn, and that the Chinese would continue to patrol the Doklam region. The following piece – originally published on 31 July 2017 – is being republished in the backdrop of this development.)
National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval’s China trip amid the standoff at the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction has given enough indication that India might well retain the upper hand in Doklam, at least in the short run. But unlike China, which has a history of giving away the soft stakes and soft signals while retaining the hard advantages, India has tended to be de facto the other way around – holding on to the soft underbelly but compromising on the hard stakes.
Lessons from Doklam
- Doklam face-off may not have taken the sheen from India’s soft power entirely
- India is just another regional power
compared to China’s ‘Big Game’ vis-à-vis the US, Japan, Russia and others
- Ordinary Chinese realise the worth of a
peaceful border despite certain sections of the media turning jingoistic
- Both Modi and Xi have been risk takers and
value their political capital, which is why Doklam has not spilled over
- Modi govt, having shown its intent on Doklam,
would wait for an opportunity to compromise without giving up on strategic
Bonhomie Fizzles Out
What else can explain our initial stand on Tibet and Kashmir or the treatment of many Chinese-Indians post 1962, including holding a Chinese prisoner of war for 55 years? Hence, the real question is whether we can play hardball with the Chinese for long without letting it spill over into our public diplomacy of treating our Chinese friends with the dignity they deserve?
Until less than a fortnight ago, articles were being written about how Aamir Khan’s Dangal wiped out years of dedicated negative propaganda by the Chinese media to paint India and Indians in a way they least deserved to be. Yoga Day provided another opportunity around the same time to give the Indian image a fillip that years of her own Incredible India campaign could not generate in the common Chinese imagination.
The euphoria unfortunately seems to have subsided in the heat and dust of Doklam sooner than an overwhelming majority on either side of the Himalayas would have liked.
Soft power is not lost just because there is a standoff, but it has definitely taken away the positive vibes about India that was doing the rounds even in Arnab Goswami-style Chinese tabloids such as the Global Times – which most Indian ‘media’ and ‘experts’ so generously and so carelessly keep on quoting to sound ‘nationalist’. One wonders, whether they are actually being so.
In a self-defeating game of the Indian public imagination of China and the Chinese being harped on by our hawkish security experts for longer than our generation ever realises, one of the major casualties have been the nearly 50 million northeastern Indians who are invariably jeered at as ‘Chinese’.
So we must remember very well that in today’s media-driven world, we cannot afford to lose this Awaara moment that we got, courtesy Dangal.
As for the need to ‘deal’ with China, including at the Doklam and CPEC that could erupt again, India must be prepared to neutralise a China that is militarily and economically at least three to five times its strength.
However, China is also ahead of India as a society (better human development indicators and relatively more homogenous with little difference in history and culture) and polity (one-party system with a two-decade tradition of 10-year rule under one leader, unlike our multi-party system).
With such tangible advantages to their credit in contemporary times, China and the Chinese believe they have every reason, and more importantly, the strength to rival even the US and Japan. India is just another regional power to them compared to China’s other ‘Big Game’ vis-à-vis the US, Japan and Russia among others.
Chinese Know What a Peaceful Border’s Worth
Beyond the big talks and fights about power and politics, the fact is that most Chinese people continued to have far less ill will about Indians despite all the turbulences of 1962 and continue to hold India in high regard. And the reason is not Buddhism or Bollywood alone.
It is not uncommon in China to find young Chinese who know more about Bangalore than about New Delhi, and expect every Indian to be good at technology and able to perform Bollywood routines. The Chinese nation and her people have struggled hard to get where they are. We have only begun to pay the price to reach their stage.
The Chinese realise, no less than Indians, the worth of having a peaceful border with a nuclear power even as our media and experts select Chinese media stories which serves their TRP agenda. The fact is that the Chinese media reflects what you wish to look at.
One WeChat post by Renzhen Institute read: “China's security threat mainly originates from its east.”
Waging a war over Doklam would push India from a basically non-aligned policy towards entering into alliances with the US, Japan and South Korea which it has refrained from so far. India can also go beyond Dalai Lama and Tibet to supporting Taiwan. If this happens, not only will Sino-Indian relations will collapse but it will damage China’s core interests further.WeChat post by Renzhen Institute
Xi-Modi: Assertive Risk Takers
The same article also blames India for “illegally entering in Chinese territory… and [to] be prepared for further action.”
Of course, there are a thousand other posts on the Chinese media making every imaginable and unimaginable comment over this issue. This is no less true for us as a far fewer number of Indians use social media today compared to the Chinese. One can only imagine the reaction from Indians if tomorrow a divided map of India without its northeast or Kashmir is placed on the cover of one of China’s reputed magazines such as Banyutan.
Finally, both Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi are assertive risk takers driven by ideology. The good thing about them goes beyond this: along with assertiveness and ideological commitment they both have shown great traits of pragmatism and compromise, and they both value their political capital – a reason why Doklam has not spilled over into cross LAC firing.
In all likelihood, the Modi government, having shown its intent on Doklam, would finally wait for the opportunity to compromise without giving up its strategic goals but also without breast-beating.
Both leaders must accept that the road to win each other over will never pass through the Doklam valley. And they would be better off not letting their pragmatism be overtaken by short-term political objectives.
(The writer is doctoral reseracher at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He can be reached @tilakjha . The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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